Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

Archive for the category “Family”

Family History

If you’ve been reading this little space on the internet for any length of time, you know that family is one of the most important things in my life. I grew up in a close knit family that ate dinner together every night, and every Sunday with my grandparents. Holidays were spent with extended family and friends who became family. I take great pride in this and in my family’s history, as both sides of my family have interesting stories to be told. My mother is Canadian and her family immigrated to Nova Scotia from The Netherlands in the early 1950s. My father’s side is Portuguese and both of his grandparents came to Massachusetts from the Portuguese islands of the Azores in the 1920s.

I know a lot about my family history and have always taken great pride in my ethnic background being 50% Dutch and 50% Portuguese, though I don’t look Dutch in any way. Last winter as a bit of project to combat cabin fever, Q and I embarked upon doing his family’s genealogy, particularly trying to learn more about his paternal grandfather and that line of his family tree. That grandfather passed when Q was a teenager and there had always been a family story that the grandfather was actually Native American, and that Q’s great-grandfather was actually a STEP great grandfather. It turns out the latter part of the story is true, but we had a lot of trouble learning more about his grandfather. Since we were tooling around with all the Ancestry stuff, it seemed like a good idea for Q to take the Ancestry DNA test to see what his genetic ethnicity might be, in an effort to find out if the Native American story was correct.

It was not.

Q’s genetic makeup turned out to be mostly Eastern European, with a big concentration in Poland and the various Slavic countries. The mystery about his paternal grandfather persists, though we’re both enjoying trying to figure out the story more. Q’s DNA opened up another big can of worms though because his maternal grandfather had a Portuguese last name and while born in the United States, had parents who were born in the Azores. It looks like from the quick family tree research we’ve done on that side that perhaps those great-grandparents moved to the Azores from Scotland, so we’re going to spend our winter doing a lot of that digging for Q.

The interesting findings on Q made me so curious about myself and my genetic ethnicity because so much of my family’s history was already known to me. I was fascinated by the results which I’ve copied here:

Not surprising that I have so much Italy/Greece and Iberian Peninsula with my Portuguese heritage, and not totally shocking about North Africa either. But I was completely blown away by the 36% concentration of Great Britain. These types of things just go to show how interconnected the world was even thousands of years ago when explorers and conquerors traversed the globe to create empires and discover new lands.

Have you done any of the DNA services to find out more about your ethnic DNA? I’d love to hear more about it as this type of stuff is fascinating to me as a history buff.




I purchased two Ancestry DNA kits on my own and was not paid by Ancestry to promote their product and services. All opinions are unsolicited and my own. 


I almost didn’t realize June began because I was entrenched in a conference in Maine last week that I was co-organized and helped to run. It was a success, but it was a blur of activity, moving boxes, running around to check on projectors, and various other duties that left me tired and more than a few days without seeing the outside of the hotel.

When I left my house on Memorial Day, I said to Q that I couldn’t wait for the conference to be over so we could finally have some time for us. We’ve had a stressful spring with some work woes for both of us, the fire next door to the house, deaths on both sides of our families, and this conference. We were looking forward to doing some vacation planning, buying new outdoor furniture, fixing our grill, and many other little things that bring us happiness.

Life, of course, has other plans.

Sadly, Q’s brother in law passed away unexpectedly over the weekend, and once again, we’re putting our plans on hold as we help his sister and niece. Things are still shocking and fresh right now and I think will be for the foreseeable future.


I’ll still be posting on here and have some book reviews coming down the line, but the big blog revamp I had in mind for June may get pushed back a bit, depending on how things shake out with life. Despite the curveballs that seem to keep coming our way, I’ve realized over the past few months that writing is the one thing I want and need to be doing and won’t abandon this space, even if it’s only my mother and aunt who still read it ( hi Pat and Cindy!).

Be well, friends.

Traditions, Old &New

For as long as I can remember, my mother and I have been making cookies for Christmas, as so many others do this time of year as well. Growing up, we almost always made them on Christmas Eve Day so there would be fresh cookies for Santa, and for family and friends who came to our house for Christmas Eve, and later for the many houses we would go traveling to on Christmas Eve. It was often just her and I who baked, with my brother frequently helping with the decorating. My Dad was usually out last minute Christmas shopping that day by himself, as that was a tradition of his own that he enjoyed.

As adulthood as crept in, we now make the cookies usually on the weekend before the holiday, bringing them to our coworkers and saving the rest for ourselves. It’s been a lot of fun in the past few years as now my sister-in-law joins in the fun. I think we made 7 different kinds of cookies this past weekend- all delicious and almost gone!


a small sample of our cookies, decorations by my brother!

Q and I are still working to establish our own holiday traditions with Little Man as each year it always depends on how Christmas falls and when we’ll end up seeing him to celebrate. In the past two years, we’ve made sure to decorate the house together and buy Little Man a new ornament every year for our little tree that he gets to pick out himself. We watch Christmas movies on the weekends we have him in the month of December, trying to expose him to new ones and favorites of ours that he has not yet seen ( he really liked Home Alone).

This year, it’s just the three of us for Christmas and while we’ll miss the rest of our family who are spending it in other places, I’m also very excited that we’ll have Little Man for Christmas Eve and a portion of Christmas Day. Seeing the fun of Christmas through the eyes of an 8 year old boy has brought a lot of joy to me this year that has been missing since my Dad died. I might be more excited about Christmas morning and the excitement of seeing what Santa brings than he is! We’ll continue a tradition from my family’s Christmas mornings too– cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

As a lover of history and family, I find traditions- no matter the holiday or time of year, fascinating. I’d love to know some of yours! As life changes around us, our traditions are often the things we hold onto for the memories, but the new ones that emerge bring excitement too.


3 Years

There’s no rule book on grief. If you ever lose someone and people try to tell you there’s some timeline to stick to, that “things get easier,” or whatever platitudes they think you want to hear, it’s totally fine to be polite and say thanks, but to know that it’s absolute krap.

People say things like that because they honestly don’t know what else to say. Often times those people haven’t ever lost a person close to them, someone they talked to every single day and relied on for so many aspects of life. I used to be that person who tried to find the right words, but mostly sounded silly and felt inadequate and uncomfortable around people who have lost someone.


And now that I’ve solidly been in the category of losing someone who was in my inner circle of life, I can say that things don’t get easier– they get different. And they will continue to get different. Every day that you live is a day away from the person you lost. Every new thing that happens, every possibility of life is something that you can’t go and call that person or ask their advice. And that’s the tough part of grief. The loss isn’t just about changing life circumstances, though that can be huge. But it’s about not knowing what the person would say to you, how they would react, or what they might do to help a situation.

Three years after unexpectedly losing my Dad, after having our lives shot out of a confetti gun, I’m still trying to grab at the pieces. I think this past year has been the hardest for me since his death. The first year was all about working through the ‘grief-stones’– the birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. and figuring out the various bits of life like finances, belongings, etc. The second year was about supporting my mother and family as they made decisions that came as a result of losing Dad.

And this past year, the third year which I felt was finally time for me to figure out my life– that I felt I finally was settled financially after my divorce almost left me broke, secure in my new relationship, and certain that my family was all going to “be OK”– that it was time for me to make my changes, my move, and do what I wanted. And it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced.

In some ways, I feel like this past year was the first time I really faced the grief. I’m a task master, a planner, and a to-do list maker. The pragmatic, practical side of myself worked through Dad’s death by making lists, organizing food, plans, people. I did this for year one and year two. But year three was just me. And as I faced questions of what next? and possible moves, I have never felt so lost without my Dad.

I realize I might always cry when there’s something on TV or a movie when someone says “I love you Dad.” I know that he’s with me and I talk to him on a regular basis. It kills me to think that he never met Little Man or any potential grandkids. I know that feeling isn’t going to go away. I know that it might lessen with time and that as things happen in life, I’ll figure it out.

It’ll never be the same, it will never be better, it’ll just be different.

Thankful Thursday #12

I’m thankful for having a brother!


David is my first friend, no matter the trouble we caused together or because of the other.

He is just shy of 2 years older than me, but I was the bossy little sister who acted like I was older and walked in to take the remote control from him when we watched TV after school.

He’s an amazing artist and creative person with a great imagination and spirit for adventure. He can put together a piece of Ikea furniture in no time, install a ceiling fan, and win any trivia match involving Disney, comic books, or superheroes.

No matter how we’ve argued or how different we can be on some things, we share the same values of family being important. He’s a kind, compassionate, funny, and all around great human being. Like our Dad, he would drop what he’s doing and help you out in any situation without asking for anything in return. He’s pretty fantastic and I don’t thank him enough.



For many years, we were the same height, but now he towers almost a foot and half over than me!

The Wisdom of a 7 Year Old

Excuse me, 7 1/2 year old. I’m told the half is very important.

This past weekend we had Little Man and Saturday night’s dinner conversation somehow turned to the presidential race because Election Day occurs a week after Little Man’s 8th birthday. Here’s pretty much how the convo went, paraphrasing a bit.

Little Man: And then after my birthday, we elect the first woman president.

Q: Well, we hope to elect the first woman president. There is someone running against her.

Little Man: Is he the guy who yells all the time?

Q: Yep. Not everyone likes him, but not everyone likes Hillary, the woman who is running against him. The same thing happened with Obama.

Little Man: Obama is our president now.

Me: You’re right, and he was our first ever black President. It’s a big deal for him and for Hillary because women and black people didn’t always have the right to vote.

Little Man: That’s not fair. Why?

Me: Because a long time ago white men thought they were the only ones who had the intelligence and ability to make decisions.

Little Man: Well that’s just silly.

Oh the wisdom of a 7 1/2 year old.


On a related note, I was incredibly surprised how moved I was last night when Hillary’s nomination became official. I don’t talk about politics often and have tried to keep a lot of the noise and media rants out of my head the past few weeks, but between Michelle Obama’s speech on Monday night and the official nomination last night, I have found myself tearing up on more than a few occasions. I think it’s because I see the perspective of the very special 7 1/2 year old little boy who doesn’t even question a woman being president and the prospect that I could someday have a little girl of my own that could change the world when she grows up now that this barrier has been broken. Whatever your politics and where you stand on the issues, it’s an amazing thing to see happen, no matter the outcome.


Over the weekend, Little Man and I had a pretty awesome milestone- he chose errands with me instead of staying home to watch a movie while Q worked out in the basement. Maybe because the errands were going to end at the library or maybe it was just that he didn’t want to spend more time watching TV, but it made me feel pretty good. I think even Q was surprised that this shy little boy who hates being away from his father made a choice to do just that.

It wasn’t a lot of errands, but the time together was fun. He helped me put stamps on letters at the post office and asked how the mail worked. We dropped off a Redbox DVD and laughed at the silly dogs sitting in the car in the parking spot next to us.

The moment he decided to come along made me feel pretty awesome, but it was nothing compared to the amazing moment when we were walking into the library and he took my hand, telling me how much he loved books. My heart burst wide open and I couldn’t stop smiling as he picked out a few books. He even got over his shyness to ask the young man at the circulation desk if they had any Star Wars books. Then the excitement when he saw the huge Lego Star Wars encyclopedia book the guy handed to him. I hope he never loses that love of books and the wonder of learning something new ( even if it is Star Wars!)

Being a ‘bonus mom’/ adult friend to Little Man is something I never expected in my life, but something I cannot imagine living without now. With him I’ve found my silly side for when we play games or do things like make homemade play dough. I cherish our weekend morning cartoons together while Q sleeps in a bit. It’s made me think differently about the world, the future, myself.

Who knew the mundane task of running errands could became a milestone.


I won’t go on about how fast the year went by because I know many of you are saying the same thing! I still cannot believe Thanksgiving was last Thursday!

As the world around me gets into the flurry of the holidays, I’m really looking forward to the second year of no family gift giving and low-key holiday celebrations. I’ve already knocked the annual viewing of Charlie Brown’s Christmas off the list ( 50 years old this year!) and am looking forward to tonight’s showing of the original claymation Rudolph on CBS tonight. My work holiday party is in a few weeks, but this weekend we’ll be headed to a festive holiday dinner party that we’re very much looking forward to attending.

As far as decorations around the house go, we’ll see how much we end up doing. I put up our door wreath over the weekend and have been listening to Christmas music in the car on my commute home, so it’s not that I’m a Grinch about the holiday, but with the holiday being low-key, it seems like a lot of work to put everything out, especially since we will only have Little Man for one weekend before the holiday and a lot of the decoration and excitement is for him. I definitely will put out stockings and some other festive bits, but not so sure about the tree. I’m super allergic to pine so we have a fake tree, but it’s a bit bulky so requires moving around furniture and things to accommodate it, which always seems like so much work for one month. I think we’ll probably end up trolling the post-Christmas sales for a smaller, prelit tree since I don’t think we’ll be moving out of our place any time soon.

Other holiday fun things include annual cookie making extravaganza with Mom, cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, and lots of holiday movie watching.

Of course, the second anniversary of Dad’s death is another hallmark of the month. After this year of change for everyone, it’s another bittersweet reminder of how much can happen in a short period of time and how life changes in an instant. It will only be my mother, Q, and me for the actual holiday and we’ll likely go to a family friend’s house for Christmas Eve and maybe just do something small for the three of us on Christmas Day. Unsure at moment which is an added bonus of the lowkey vibe- we’re just happy and thankful to spend time together.

The Story of a House

Miranda Lambert has a song– “The House That Built Me.” While I always thought it was a lovely tune, never before has it resonated with me so deeply.

My childhood home is about to belong to another family.

It was my home for almost my entire life. With the exception of living other places for short periods of time for school and internships, this was my permanent address until I bought my own home in 2009.

Regan Road

This house began as just a small little saltbox, essentially the two windows and front door side on the left of the picture. Our family moved in when I was just a year old. As we grew up, the house grew, with the right side addition, then another addition on the back, and so on.

The house, as any does, has stories to tell– the mudroom addition on the far end that my father and grandfather built together, followed a few years later by the shed in the backyard. How we didn’t have front steps on the house for a good decade. The jungle gym and swings my brother, our friends, and I played on for so many years. The 4 x 4s in the basement where my Dad tracked our heights ( mostly David’s rapid growth!) and we marked our friends when they came over too. The pool we used to have in our backyard or the snowmen we would make. The many holidays and events that happened in this house- everything from our big, loud Thanksgivings to our normal Sunday family dinners. Prom and wedding photos were taken here. Lazy afternoons talking and enjoying drinks on the back patio with the terrific breeze a house on a hill provides. My brother and father did so many home improvements together, and after my father died, my brother and Q continued that tradition.


The house was more than just a place to lay our heads every night- it was a true home in every sense of love and comfort that resonates with that word. It was the place we gathered every.single. night as a family of four to eat dinner together, no matter how quick the meal or fancy the occasion. The dining room table was the spot of endless amounts of laughter and disagreements over words in Scrabble. Our house was the fifth family member as it provided the spot where so much of our lives took place.

It’s not easy to say goodbye to the place where so much happened, a spot where friends and extended family often called home too. My parents are remembered by so many kids in the neighborhood– and even their kids now– as the house that gave out BlowPops for Halloween. We had amazing neighbors and it was a great place to grow up.

But, as life happens, things change, and decisions must be made. I fully support my mother’s decision to downsize after the loss of my father not just because it’ll make things easier for her and have us worrying a little bit less, but because it’s on her terms and really, on my brother and mine too. It would break my heart all over again if we had been forced to sell in the future because my mother was ill or something bad occurred. This big life change happened because we all agreed it would be best. There was some early talk of Q and I moving in with her, selling my house and trying to make it work for the three of us there, but for many reasons, it wasn’t the right decision.

Over the summer, a few weeks before my Mom made the decision to sell, she had the perfect thing to say about the house. My brother and sister-in-law decided after their small, intimate, family only wedding in Vermont to have a large celebration for our extended family and friends at Mom &Dad’s. Mom said that it seemed almost perfect– that she and my father had raised us and put us out to the world, and having the wedding celebration was almost like the perfect ending to the house as a way to close off that part of life. It seemed too sad for words at the time, but as I walked through the empty house one last time yesterday, that’s all I could think of as I walked through.

A young family are the new owners and it’s their first home, similar to the situation that my parents were in some 32 years old. They even share the same profession as my mother, so it feels like the universe and fate got this one right. While I don’t think I’ll be doing any drive bys to check on it in the near future, I know this place will become an important chapter in the life of the next family who inhabits it.

Moving Feelings

My mom moved. Aside from a mini meltdown after walking into the house and seeing it mostly empty, I’m doing alright with this new life change.

I miss having her only a few minutes down the street, and while her new home is only 15 minutes away, it’s far enough to have to plan to go there, instead of just drop by to pick something up. It’s not that huge of a deal, but just a change in how life has been for the past six years since I moved out of my lifelong home. It was necessary though, not just for her, but for me. Even though I moved into my own house, having my parents only a few miles away made me rely a lot on them for various things. After Dad died, I think I became a bit of a helicopter daughter to my mother. Her moving 15 minutes away is what I needed for the push to the next step in my life, whatever that might be remains to be seen.

In the moving process, there are always the moments of “where did all this stuff come from?” and “why did I save this?” My mom has always been pretty good at getting rid of junk, and after Dad died, we did a big purge of stuff because he wasn’t great at getting rid of junk. He definitely was nowhere near a hoarder, but we definitely scratched our heads a few times wondering why there were so many boxes of random things like drywall nails when it had been years since any major drywall projects were done.

Of course, there were the fair share of sentimental objects and trips down memory lane. Laughing at some of the clothes we wore as we looked through photos and remembering various bits of life. My mom had a random shoebox filled with notes and cards from us over the years, from which this gem came from. It was funny to see how many notes to her included mentions of her food, which obviously was all our young minds could think of at the time.

2015-09-07 12.32.42

I’m guessing this is probably 3rd grade maybe?

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